The Bradwell family is best known for developing home appliances and philanthropic water purification research. Patriarch John Bradwell, and his daughter Melissa, are holding a celebration of their latest breakthrough – the ‘Clean Water Initiative’ – at the Stonehenge Museum. Inviting only the most esteemed of the scientific and commercial communities, the party is well underway when an explosion crumbles the museum to dust. Emerging from the rubble, the protagonist encounters one survivor trapped behind a door. Donning a Bradwell Guide – like Google Glass with an AI companion – the protagonist and their new ally, Dr Amber Randall, venture deep into the secret underground research facility beneath the Stonehenge Museum. What follows is an exploration of the surveillance state, guilt and tragedy, and misguided ambition.
That makes The Bradwell Conspiracy sound really stuffy, but it’s most certainly not. The Bradwell Conspiracy takes place in the most vibrant subterranean research facility I have ever laid eyes on. It’s a shame that nearly all of it has been destroyed in the explosion, as Architectural Digest would have been thrilled to give it a double-page feature. Jonathan Ross – yep, Jonathan Ross – narrates a staff induction before you’re off and running with Bradwell Electronics’ secret doodad: the Substance Mobile Printer. This handheld 3D printer sponges up a mysterious material called Substance, before spitting out the physical representation of the various blueprints you collect through exploration.
These objects help you solve the ruined research facility’s puzzles and escape in one piece. Initially, the puzzles ask you to create planks to cross gaps or find the correct blueprint to produce the correct missing equipment, but they slowly become more and more sophisticated. For example, one later puzzle, in a flooded area, required me to switch a turbine on, then jump in a boat, as it was propelled away, in order to reach high enough to print train tracks for the emergency exit pods (SMP + water = nope). The mechanics are incredibly simple: pick up Substance; select blueprints; print the right stuff out. But it never felt simple, and repairing the facility with puzzle solving made sense; things are destroyed or broken and it’s down to you to fix them. Some of the puzzles proper stumped me, but honestly, I could almost feel the lightbulb flash above my furrowed brow when I put the pieces in place.
The puzzles are good, but the real stars of the show are its writing and voice acting. The protagonist is silent, due to smoke inhalation from the explosion, so they keep in contact with Dr Amber through the Bradwell Guide. By taking photos of what they see and sending them to Dr Amber, she’s able to offer routes through the rubble and hints for the puzzles. Dr Amber is an optimistic, comedic and chirpy presence throughout The Bradwell Conspiracy. Her love-hate relationship with the well-intentioned, yet easily confused, AI that stumbles and autocorrects a basic statement was one of the highlights of her character. She’ll muse and chatter to you in the eerie silence saturating the facility, and sending her photos of paintings, whiteboards, and offices will elicit comments on the conspiracy lying beneath the glossy Bradwell brand. Send her loads of photos and she’ll be snarky with you about the spam. Occasionally, she’s perplexed by the photos you send, and responds with a stock ‘I’m not sure’ quote, and then you’re aware she’s just a character in a video game. But, aside from those moments, A Brave Plan has written an intelligent and intriguing companion who, with an excellent performance by Rebecca LaChance, puts a pep in your step during the puzzle solving and quiet exploration.
When you’re on your own, there’s opportunity to explore the research rooms and soak in the quiet and lonely atmosphere. Everything is hanging still and static from the emergency evacuation, and, unlike some walking sims or mystery games, you don’t have the option to pick up objects or throw them around. It makes it all the more exciting when you stumble upon something vital, like months of audio logs between a researcher and the CEO, or love letters of an office romance. The game’s environments aren’t a playpen for the player to throw objects at the wall and see what sticks. The sticking stuff is already there, and a curious eye is always rewarded with something new that progresses the mystery along a bit.
As mentioned, the Bradwell Electronics’ secret research facility is one of the most aesthetically pleasing places I’ve seen. It would have been tempting to paint the rooms and corridors in a sanitised pale blue, or lean into the drab browns and greys of rubble and destruction. But, A Brave Plan chose instead to pull a small rainforest’s worth of Dulux colour charts off the shelves, and paint with the vigorous energy of a Year 2 art class. Each place in the research building has its own personality and feels believable, every corner crammed with clutter. There’s a throw draped on an office desk chair, to combat the subterranean chill. There are tropical-themed birthday party celebrations in the middle of an atrium where confetti is strewn across the floor and someone’s brought a surfboard along just because. I spent hours rooting around and peering through windows to expose the insidious mystery, but also because I loved the detail and care that had gone into making an empty research facility so full of life.
As the protagonist falls deeper and deeper within the facility, the veneers of the Bradwell conspiracy are peeled away. It’s a slow realisation, and it feels well-earned. When the rotten core of the facility and the Bradwell philosophy dawns on you, it makes sense. It didn’t wobble unsteadily between social commentary and spoofy comedy, like an episode of Black Mirror. The game is a logic and platforming puzzler, with a silly section featuring Jonathan Ross, and it turns out autocorrect is still the bane of AI guides even in this highly advanced alternate future. But, it also provokes an examination of truth in a fake news era, the commingling of the state and the private sector, and how to resist a capitalist dystopia.
Developer: A Brave Plan
Publisher: Bossa Studios
Available on: PC [reviewed on], iOS, PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 8, 2019
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